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Man in the San Juan Valley

THE BASKETMAKERS. (continued) We do know what these people looked like, since quite a few well-preserved "mummies" have been found buried in dry caves. They were short, averaging 5 feet 3 or 4 inches for the men and about 5 feet for the women. Their general build was medium slender to stocky; their faces moderately long and narrow; skin color was light to dark brown; and their eyes were brown to black, as was their hair.

The Basketmakers used clothing of a sort; that is, they may have worn a loincloth or apron and probably had shoulder robes of untailored tanned hide for protection against cold. Woven bands or loincloths have been found in several sites. Most burials had no type of clothes but sometimes were wrapped in mantles or dried skins. Probably clothing was never worn very much. Certain "aprons" attached to waist cords and made of strings of cedar or yucca bast were evidently used as menstrual pads. Finely woven aprons may have been worn by the women on special "dress-up" occasions, but the scarcity of such items would indicate they were not for everyday wear.

They wore sandals made of woven yucca strips or cleaned fibers, or sometimes of very fine cross-woven cord, with fringed toes and colored ornamentation. Human hair was used in making rope in considerable quantities; either it was cut off after death and utilized for this purpose, or was hacked short from time to time during life. Some burials, especially among the males, indicate rather fancy hair styles, and it may, therefore, have been the women who had their hair cropped to supply the material for ropes and belts.

Both men and women wore ornaments—bracelets, necklaces, and pendants fashioned of stone, bone, or even various dried berries. Beads were also made of olivella, conus, and abalone shell which probably were imported from the Pacific Coast by trading with intervening tribes. Fur blankets were fashioned by wrapping yucca-fiber strings with long narrow strips of rabbit fur and tying these fur-covered strings together in close parallel rows.

The Basketmakers were especially known for the fine types of woven containers they produced. Flexible seamless sacks, beautifully decorated in black, red-brown, and gray are sometimes found. Large, wide-mouthed ovoid baskets, carried on the back with the aid of a tumpline across the forehead, were used for bringing home seeds and other crops. Basket trays and bowls, with both close coiling and spaced coiling, were often highly ornamented, always in a symmetrical pattern. Designs usually consist of red figures outlined with black, alternating with black figures outlined in red.

The women ground corn on metates—flat slabs of rock in which eventually a deep groove was worn—with manos, or small hand stones. Stone of various sorts was used in making spear and dart points (and in the later part of the period, arrow points), knives, drills, gravers, pipes, and atlatl weights. Animal bone was carefully fashioned into awls, fleshers, scrapers, whistles, jewelry, and even gaming pieces. Wood was used for the atlatl and the dart, and later for bows and arrows, for digging sticks (for planting crops), scoops, feather boxes, and hair ornaments.

Basketmaker remains are found throughout the Four Corners country, the better specimens being recovered from dry caves where the more perishable materials are preserved. In open sites, only the stone and bone objects are left, along with the remains of house structures and storage pits.

In the Animas Valley, north of Durango, Colo., there was quite a concentration of early Basketmakers. Earl H. Morris, who conducted the first scientific explorations of Aztec Ruins, excavated a number of these sites in 1938 and 1939. Here, in an open talus site, he found the first evidence that the early Basketmakers had actual house structures. He gives a graphic description of a typical one:

A site for the dwelling was secured by digging a drift into the steep hillside and piling the excavated earth and stone out in front until a terrace large enough to accommodate the projected house had been provided. The floor area was scooped out to shallow saucer shape—in this case 9 m. in diameter—and coated with mud. At the margins, the mud curved upward to end against the half-buried foot logs which were the basal course of the wall. The walls were composed of horizontal wood and mud masonry. They rose with an inward slant to a little better than head height, then were cribbed for a distance to reduce the diameter of the flat portion of the roof, which was of clay supported by parallel poles, The arc of stones was a retaining device placed to hold back the ever-growing accumulation of refuse that was dumped at the brink of the terrace.

Interior furnishings generally consisted of a heating-pit, slab-lined storage cists, some with above-floor mud domes, and usually grinding stones and metates. How such a structure was entered is not known; possibly it was through a smoke hole in the roof, as in the later and deeper pithouses, or perhaps it was through a lateral doorway with a high sill, traces of which no longer remain.

By A.D. 700, the Four Corners country was evidently well populated. In this later part of the Basketmaker period, the houses in open sites were usually more subterranean. These later houses, often with slab-lined and adobe-plastered walls, had a smaller second room or antechamber added on the front through which entrance was made. A few such ruined dwelling sites are known along the Animas River south of Durango. Morris felt that an adequate archeological survey would reveal a great many more, but extensive plowing of the area in recent historic times has long since removed the evidence. In the latter part of this period, the early Basketmakers evidently moved downstream where there was better land for cultivation and the growing season was slightly longer.

That they had a firm belief in a life in the hereafter is shown by the care with which they buried their dead and by the offerings placed with them. It is with these burials in dry caves that most of the perishable material relating to this period has been found. Frequently the bodies were wrapped in mantles of fur or feather string, and sometimes wrapped again in the tanned skins of deer or mountain sheep. Often the bodies have sandals on the feet (and occasionally an extra pair for replacement if the first wore out) and are accompanied by hair ornaments, necklaces, beads, pendants, baskets of corn and pinyon nuts, pipes and smoking material, gaming sets, flutes, and implements of warfare and the chase. The bodies were usually buried in the flexed position, that is, with the knees drawn up tightly and the hands folded across the chest. In the earlier part of the period, cave storage pits were used as burial places. Some bodies were placed in crevices behind fallen rocks within the cave. Other burials were in the open or in the talus slopes below the caves. In the latter part of the period, so much of the cave was used by the living that the dead were frequently buried in the open in specially dug pits. In these cases, evidence of the perishable material has usually disappeared. In a few of the later graves, pottery is found as a grave offering. Morris reports one burial of this period that contained 11 pottery vessels.

The Basketmakers must have had warm feelings of affection for their young. There was a high mortality rate among the infants and children, but despite this they lavished great care on each small burial. Children might be buried in baskets or in large skin bags, but babies were carefully buried in their cradles. These cradles were made by bending a long slender stick into an oval shape, on which a framework of rods was tied to the outer oval in a crisscross pattern. The interior was padded with juniper bark and covered with fur-cloth blankets, which were often made from the soft, white stomach skins of rabbits. The cradle could be carried on the mother's back, hung from a convenient peg in the home or on a tree branch when out of doors, or laid carefully on the ground in the shade, all without upsetting the baby. Diapers were made of soft shredded juniper bark, and juniper bark pads wrapped in soft skins were tied on the infants to prevent umbilical hernia.

Archeologists have dug up some unusual burials from this period. One was a male who, presumably after death, had been cut in two at the waist and then sewed together again. Why this was done nobody knows. He was also wearing a pair of leather moccasins, an item not often found among the Basketmakers. Another burial, from the Canyon del Muerto in northeastern Arizona, consisted of only a pair of forearms and hands, lying palms up, side by side on a bed of grass. Wrapped around the wrists were three necklaces with abalone shell pendants. Ironically enough, included in the grave offerings were two pairs of the finest sandals ever found. Over the whole lay a large basket about 2 feet in diameter. Conjectures as to the "whys" and "whats" of this burial have been numerous, but probably the true reason will never be known.

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